General Dynamics - Pathfinder Ad

9-1-1 Magazine: Managing Emergency Communications

Priority Dispatch

Navigator 2018




Stratus Technologies

CAD, NG911 & Records Management


Recording Systems


Facilities Planning and Design

First Contact 911

Training Trends & Tactics




Holland Co     
Mobile Command Vehicles



Map Reading: Where Were Google Maps Back Then?

Author: Sue Pivetta

Date: 2014-06-27
Share |


When I began teaching the 9-1-1 college course over twenty years ago, my second unit included “Map Reading.”  Not only was this unit fun it was probably one of the most useful of all learning in the 630-hour course of study.  Useful because no matter what type of dispatch job the student ended up with or even if they didn’t enter the 9-1-1 profession at all, they learned something very useful in life.

I will have to say learning to teach map reading was also good for me.  On the job 30 years ago we pulled boards with the various agency maps pasted on them out of a slider.  Each slider had a city name for the five cities we dispatched for.  Those maps were vital as they would tell us the police jurisdictions and fire run cards.

So you might ask, with GPS and E9-1-1 and location technology is there still a need for Telecommunicators to know their area?  Absolutely - and even more now with text location technology so inconsistent. But how have changes in technology affected the teaching of map reading?  What I thought might be useful is to take those ancient map reading exercises from that college course long, long ago and update them to use today’s incredible technology of Google Maps.

Let’s take a look at two exercises from the Unit Two curriculum.  This first exercise was a huge awakening to the students, because as you know learning that offers a personal discovery is remembered and most useful to getting your point across.

The advent of mapping systems as part of modern day integrated 9-1-1 and dispatching software gives dispatchers more location-related tools, but basic understanding of mapping, addressing, and directions still require thinking.  Using programs like Google Earth to generate interactive training exercises in map reading and caller location can be a big benefit to your 9-1-1 Center training program.

2.05.1 Addressing Basics

Distribute two pieces of plain copy paper and black pens. Part one is to instruct students to draw their home on a grid map with five blocks surrounding the home.  Label the map with north and south.  Next name the streets all directions for five blocks surrounding their home - from memory. Next again from memory - draw their route to where they are now from home, labeling streets, highways, and landmarks indicating north and south. Write the home address at the top of each sheet as well as the current location address on sheet two. Collect these and transfer them to overheads to display in class.

Learning Objective:  To reinforce that callers often do not know exactly where they are, and do not necessarily understand north, south, east and west as it pertains to their location.  This exercise will reinforce the need to use the creative location gathering techniques in the textbook. To encourage learners to pay particular attention to agency addressing rules, street labeling and directionals.

That was then and of course there would be no overheads to transfer the papers to - but how could you use current technology to apply the same learning to your trainees?  Google maps of course.  Students would still draw their maps by hand and by memory.  And their woeful maps could be scanned in and compared to Google maps on the LCD projector.  This is an awakening as they realize they can have the same problems identifying or communicating their location as the average 9-1-1 caller - and that needs to change as they become a professional telecommunicator.

Today, regardless of GPS or location technology, there will come a time they will need to know more than the average citizen about their jurisdiction and the surrounding jurisdictions’ addressing.  For emphasis I introduce a lawsuit where the dispatcher misinterpreted the caller’s directions as between Main and First to be ‘north’ of Main.  A small mistake that resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit.  Dramatic for sure yet impactful nevertheless.

Here is another exercise that brought about a deeper understanding about addressing in the country:


2.05.2 Maps, Grids, and Nonsense

Gather maps from far-away communities - surrounding towns, or a city or town in another state.  Divide your learners into teams and distribute your other-area maps to those teams. Ask them to explain the addressing “system” if they can find one. For example, are the streets numbered or named.  Is there any system to the names such as A-Z? Do streets run one direction and avenues another? Ask them to prepare to teach the class about how to learn their given area.

Learning Objective:  To reinforce that there are many types of addressing systems from city to city, town to town, county and rural areas and rarely is there a grid system that follows its own rules to the T.  Students recognize that each area is like a snowflake and must be looked at as unique.

That was then - and we used folded maps I gathered from a map store. When asked what they thought before the exercise, they said they’d thought that all addressing was standardized by some federal addressing authority. I loved being able to tell them that in Hollywood, every household chose their own house number making it impossible for anyone but the most experienced responders to find anyone!

This is now – so today with this exercise you would use Google Maps to accomplish the same lesson.  You could offer a section of various cities and assign the same teaching assignment.  Possibly they could choose the city they or their parents were born in for added connection to the task. The group spokesperson would bring up their target area on the projector and explain the grid of lack of therefore.  This exercise also led us into discussions about MSAG, GPS and ALI and how that affects what we do as dispatchers. 


Arriving at Destination

My intention in writing this article was to explore the huge difference between Then and Now in terms of training and technology.  What I discovered while writing surprised me.  There really is no difference in the learning needed, because training must start at the foundation. Regardless of all the location technology available, there is still a need to understand that citizens often don’t know where they are, especially is they have just been victimized, and that there is no ‘standard’ in addressing from town to town city to city.  And yes, it always helps to have a little fun when learning.

We now need to get across in a very personal way that location technology is indeed precious to saving lives - yet we must stay cognizant of the limits of that technology and the importance of the human answering the call and his or her own wisdom born from discovery and the ability to think beyond that technology when seconds count.  


Training Tactics is a guest column about dispatcher training issues.  Sue Pivetta is a former 9-1-1 Supervisor and vocational college instructor.  Sue has a BA from Antioch University in Adult Learning.  She is the creator of many critical thinking training products for 9-1-1 call taking.  She is the author of The Exceptional Trainer book and workshop and has created a series of 10 Adult Learning downloadable trainings.  All products and workshops can be found at  Sue provided this article to us from her online blog.

Photo: R. D. Larson/9-1-1 Magazine photo file


Show: Newest | Oldest

Post a Comment

Log in or sign up to comment

9-1-1 Magazine is a Sponsor of the California Mobile Command Center Rally

Send mail to with questions or comments about this portal.

© 2010-2017 9-1-1 MAGAZINE and The content of this portal is the property of 9-1-1 MAGAZINE and  We encourage government public-safety agencies to share any content with their staff, however, all others must not duplicate or modify any content without prior written consent of 9-1-1 MAGAZINE. Email for permissions. For more information, read the Terms of Service. Continued access of this portal and system implies consent to the above statements and those maintained on the Terms of Service.

Powered by Solata

MCM Consulting Yellow Submarine Marketing

 Team Rennick